In the “Figures Wanted” spotlight, I take a look at classic properties that are overdue for collectibles. In most cases, these properties have had little to no collectibles released, especially in the last 15+ years. In my previous entries, I talked about the classic video game Double Dragon, and the iconic horror film The Thing. Today, I am talking about a another classic, and long running, video game property; Battletoads. The franchise began on the Nintendo Entertainment System, and has made appearances on every major platform of the 8-bit and 16-bit eras, including the arcades. At the height of its popularity, it even spawned a half hour cartoon pilot, which was ultimately never picked up to series.
These days, Battletoads is a Microsoft owned property, via their acquisition of Rare. One of the characters appears as a playable character in the modern revival of Killer Instinct. An all-new game was also announced earlier this year for Microsoft Xbox systems and PC. What better way to celebrate the revival of this classic franchise than with new action figures?
As you read on, I’ll go over a brief history of the Battletoads story, some of the best releases, and more. After that, I’ll go over which characters would most likely be in line for new toys, and which companies I believe would be best suited for taking on the license. Feel free to share what you’d love to see for Battletoads in our discussion thread.
In entertainment, once something becomes even remotely popular, companies will fall over themselves trying to cash in on that success. In the early 80’s, it was shows like He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, in the mid-80’s it was Transformers, and in the late 80’s it was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Each of those brands spawned toys, movies, and cartoons that looked to take their winning formula, and translate it into a slightly different property. But few brands spawned the number of imitations that TMNT did. Mutated or anthropomorphic animals with hip attitudes, a dynamic team mentality and the ability to throw down became a genre all its own. Street Sharks, Biker Mice From Mars, Samurai Pizza Cats, Swat Cats, and Wild West C.O.W.-Boys of Moo Mesa all feel cut from a similar cloth to TMNT.
It wasn’t just TV shows, however. Video game developers wanted in on the action, especially after the Teenage Mutant Ninja turtles made a successful jump to the gaming arena, with a stellar arcade game by Konami. In 1991, a video game called Battletoads was released for the Nintendo Entertainment System. The game was developed by Rare, who would go on to create legendary games such as Donkey Kong Country (SNES), Goldeneye 007 (N64), and Killer Instinct (Arcade, SNES). They teamed up with Tradewest, who had published the arcade hit Double Dragon for home consoles, for the games release. The game clearly shared similar ideas with TMNT, featuring a band of hip heroes, who have a father figure, a female friend, and a group of foes made up of other anthropomorphized creatures.
Battletoads was a near instant hit with gamers and game critics. In the game, you can play as Rash and Zitz, as they try to rescue Zitz and Princess Angelica from the evil Dark Queen and her minions. The game is a side scrolling beat ‘em up for one or two players. To differentiate itself from the many brawlers out there, Rare also added in some climbing levels, and an infamous racing level. The game became known not only for its colorful characters, and cartoon style plot, but also for its high difficulty level. The bike level is one of the most notoriously difficult levels of the entire NES era. Regardless of the difficulty, the game was a blast to play with friends, and it wasn’t long before the game made appearances on other consoles. Outside of the NES, Battletoads made appearances on the Sega Genesis, the Master system, Game Gear, Gameboy, Arcades, the SNES, and even the Amiga CD32. The game also led to a nonsensical, but wonderful, crossover with Double Dragon.
Battletoads, for the most part, was relegated to video games, but there were attempts to expand it into other mediums. A half hour pilot for a cartoon series was produced, and aired in November of 1992. It was not well received, and was never picked up to series. The cartoon added a new twist to the tale, showing the Battletoads as humans who change into the toads. It’s as bad as it sounds. However, you can watch it officially on Youtube if you simply must see it.
While Battletoads was a successful initially, it was a flame that burned bright, and burned fast. After the release of Battletoads and Double Dragon and the Battletoads arcade game, the franchise quietly went away as Rare began focusing on other projects. However, after 25 years, a new Battletoads game is in development for the Xbox One, and the timing couldn’t be better for new collectibles based on the hit game.
Three hulked out battle-hardened amphibians make up the main protagonists from the game series. You have Rash, the goof-off of the trio. There’s Pimple, who is the largest and strongest of the Toads. Then there’s Zitz, who is the leader. The characters very much look like they could fit in the same world as the Teenage Mutant Ninja turtles. They’re colorful, muscular, and each has a bit of added flair via armor or accessories.
For any toy make, these are the three characters that would be the focus. They would be instantly recognizable to classic game players, and their designers were the most toyetic of all the games. It’s one of the reasons I’ve always considered this license a good candidate for collectibles, as most byers would simply want these three figures.
While the Toads are the stars of the games, there are plenty of others that could add to the lien up if a toy maker wanted to expand their line. You have the Dark Queen, the big baddie of the series. She’s ridiculously out of place in a game filled with warrior animals, and is essentially an Elvira knock off. Other characters include the Battletoad’s ally Professor T. Bird, who fills in the “Splinter” role. There’s assorted other bosses and generic enemies that could be nice army builder fodder.
I honestly can’t see many toy companies delving far into the roster here. The secondary characters are don’t have the instant recognition of the Battletoads. For more collector level fully featured figures, these characters are likely to be left out. However, any company doing smaller scale, perhaps retro style figures, could drop a few of these in to get more out of the license.
The classic Battletoads franchise was one of those game properties that could never really break into other media. They tried with a completely forgettable cartoon pilot, and a small line of bendable figures. The Bend ‘Ems were created by Just Toys, and released in 1991. They were packed on blaster cards, and were originally priced at $2.99. The rarity of those Bend ‘Ems have caused their prices to skyrocket in the collector market. Outside of that, there’s nothing of note.
Batletoads is owned by Rare, who is in turn owned by Microsoft. They had been laying the groundwork for a Battletoads return with the inclusion of Battletoads in the Xbox One version of Shovel Knight, and Rash as a playable character in the 2013 revival of Killer Instinct. Then, at E3 2019, Microsoft revealed there is a completely new Battletoads game in development for the Xbox One.
With the franchise making a comeback, I would not be surprised to see some interest from collectible companies. It would depend on what restrictions Microsoft and Rare would place on the license. Unless the new game is an immediate smash hit, I imagine most companies would want access to the classic designs. If Microsoft was willing to allow that, then the launch of the new game would make for a great release or announcement window to maximize exposure.
Who Could Handle The License?
For something like Battletoads, a company like super7 could be an ideal fit. Like a few of their recent licenses, they could release items in multiple scales. For more hardcore collectors, the three Battletoads would make perfect sense as part of their 7” scale Ultimates line. The higher price point would allow Super7 to add in some more zany items, like oversized hands, or horns, or large shoes that mimic the attacks in the game.
With Super7, that also opens up the possibility of ReAction Figures. At the smaller scale, and with less articulation points, there’s a greater chance of characters outside of Zitz, Pimple, and Rash. The card art for that scale would be a huge selling point, and art from someone like Jason Edmiston would be a great selling point.
A lot of fans would definitely point towards NECA as a strong fit. They have a nice history of video game licenses with their Player Select line, and making each of these Ultimate Figures could make for some fun figures. For them, I’d only expect to see the three main Battletoads. NECA has a way of getting a lot out of molds and keeping them between $25 and $20. For NECA 7” Figures, I could see things like swap out hands, bonus flies from the game, and maybe even a weapon or two. With NECA, to maximize the license, they could produce variants based on different game appearances, such as arcade appearance, and pixelated NES appearance versions.
Outside of those two, I don’t see many other companies as a strong fit for action figures. Companies like First4Figures or Gaming Heads could be potential homes for statues. But Battletoads feels like a license that would work better as figures, as opposed to static collectibles like statues or busts.
With the Battletoads franchise poised for a comeback, there’s a good chance older fans are going to be on the lookout for some merchandise. It really depends on Microsoft and Rare at this point. If they plan on really pushing the new Battletoads game with an advertising and licensing campaign, then collectibles aren’t likely to be too far behind. However, if they plan on just releasing the game with little to no fanfare, and not capitalizing on the nostalgia factor the license has, then I wouldn’t get my hopes up.
I’ve curated some Battletoads images, which you can see in the gallery below. They include game screen shots, box art, key art, and more.